For George

May 2016.

Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden: Culture

Dear George,

Based on our conversation, I have prepared an intensive five-day tour of Berlin. You will be introduced to Berlin’s history, art, and culture – indeed, to its psyche – in a riveting presentation by your guide Jan, whose passion is showing visitors the layered richness of his city’s history and culture. Jan will also accompany you on a one-day visit to the neighboring city of Potsdam, and the trip will end with a tour of Dresden’s Old City.

Day 1: Overview of Berlin’s history

Jan will pick you up from the hotel lobby and you will be driven to historical sites in this once-divided city. You will see authentic remnants of the Berlin Wall, where a piece of the wall remains in its original spot, and continue to the former headquarters of the Gestapo at the Topography of Terror, followed by the Stasi exhibit about the secret police of East Germany. You will also visit Checkpoint Charlie, a former border crossing between the East and West, and the Memorial for the Fall of the Wall art installation.

From there, you will head to Pariser Platz, Berlin’s central square, which houses the US and French embassies and is just by the Brandenburg Gate, one of Germany’s best-known monuments. Lunch will be at Kafer Restaurant on the rooftop terrace of the Reichstag.

After lunch, you will continue your introduction to Berlin with a visit to the Holocaust memorial designed by Peter Eisenmann and then to Potsdamer Platz, where you will see the architecture of Helmuth Jahn and Renzo Piano. Following a visit to the Memorial for Count Schenk of Stauffenberg, an officer who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944, the tour will end at the Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin’s nicest squares, featuring the Konzerthaus and the French and German Churches. You will then return to the hotel to rest and relax before heading out for dinner.

Day 2: Art and culture in Berlin’s East

Your guide will meet you in the hotel lobby for a fully-planned day that will take you to more architectural and historical sites scattered in the many diverse neighborhoods of this vibrant city. Today will start with a visit to the Book Burning Memorial designed by Micha Ullman. From there, you will go to Berlin’s oldest neighborhood, the Nikolai Quarter, and then continue to visit painted remnants of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery. You will also visit the NHow Hotel, a hip hotel with great architecture, and will have a chance to explore Kreuzberg, a neighborhood full of street art.

The morning will continue with a visit to the Soviet Memorial, which commemorates the Soviet soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin. A tour of the Friedrichshain neighborhood will include a chance to see Soviet architecture on Karl Marx Avenue. Per your request, you will also visit Grünbergstrasse, where the film “The Lives of Others” was shot. From there, you will go to Maxanderplatz, an important plaza in former East Berlin. Lunch reservations have been made at the nearby Oxymoron restaurant.

The afternoon will start with a visit to the Hackesche Höfe courtyards, where old and new Berlin mix together, followed by a trip to Haus Schwarzenberg, where you will see plenty of street art and an exhibit about Otto Weidt, a workshop owner who sheltered Jewish workers in his factory. You will then continue through neighborhoods of art galleries (Sophien and Gipsstrasse) to visit an art installation (Abandoned Room), the old dancing hall (Auguststrasse), and an exhibit in a former synagogue. Afterward, you will be taken back to the hotel and have a chance to rest before dinner.

Day 3: Art and memorials in Berlin 

The morning will be devoted primarily to giving you a glimpse of the fantastic art that Berlin offers, starting with Old Berlin’s main boulevard, Unter den Linden, and continuing to the striking lobby of the Radisson Hotel. You will then be taken to Museum Island, where you will have a choice of visiting the Pergamon Museum or the New Museum after being given an overview. The morning will conclude with a visit to the entrance building to the Museum of German History, designed by I. M. Pei, and a viewing of an amazing painting by Anselm Kiefer. Today’s lunch will be at the Museum of German History.

The afternoon will be devoted to memorials which provide a window into the history of the city and the country, as well as insight into the psyche of the German people. You will visit the Neue Wache, a memorial for all victims of war and dictatorship, where there is a sculpture of Käthe Kollwitz, and continue to another border crossing (Palace of Tears) and the Soviet War Memorial at the Brandenburg gate, which is flanked by two Soviet tanks. You will also visit a memorial to the German soldiers who died since 1945 and a memorial to the gypsies and homosexuals who were persecuted by the Nazis, as well as the site of Adolf Hitler’s bunker.

From there, you will go to Tempelhof Airport, where you will hear the story of Stalin’s Berlin Blockade and the Western Allies’ airlift, and then head to Friedrichstrasse, a major shopping street in former East Germany. You will be returned to the hotel and have the evening free to rest and enjoy Berlin.

Day 4: West Berlin and Jewish heritage

Jan will pick you up from the hotel lobby for a moving day which will take you through Berlin’s Jewish heritage and major sites of West Berlin. Today will start with a trip along John Foster Dulles Avenue at Tiergarten Park, followed by a visit to the residence of the German president (Palace Bellevue) and the Victory Column commemorating Prussia’ victories against Denmark, Austria, and France. Per our conversation, you will also visit the Mercedes showroom in Salzufer.

The morning will continue with a visit to the memorial at Track 17 in the Berlin–Grunewald station, from which 50,000 Berliner Jews were deported by train. You will then head through a residential neighborhood of West Berlin to the Memorial Church, a major landmark in the center of West Berlin, and then to Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin’s main shopping street. After seeing Savigny Square, one of West Berlin’s nicer neighborhoods, you will have lunch at the famous 6th-floor food court of the KaDeWe department store, where you will find a vast selection of gourmet food and drinks.

After lunch, you will visit Tiergarten Strasse, where many embassies are located. From there, you will continue to the Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Liebeskind, and then to Hausvogteiplatz, a memorial for the Jewish owners and employees in the garment industry who were persecuted by the Nazis.

The day will end with a trip back to the hotel, leaving you free to enjoy Berlin’s nightlife in the evening. Jan will be happy to provide recommendations for spots that fit your fancy.

Day 6: Potsdam and the Potsdam Conference 

Before leaving Berlin, you will take a tour of the outside grounds of the Charlottenburg Palace, the summer residence of the Prussian kings and the only surviving royal residence in the city. From there, you will continue to the Olympic Stadium, which was used for the 1936 Olympics and has just undergone a massive renovation.

You will drive to Potsdam along the scenic Havelchaussee beside the Havel River, which you will cross the Glienicke Bridge, which was used by the Americans and Soviets to exchange captured spies, earning it the title “Bridge of Spies.” In Potsdam, you will visit the grounds of the Sanssouci Palace, the former residence of Frederic II, before continuing to the Dutch Quarter, a neighborhood full of red Dutch brick buildings. Lunch reservations have been made at the Flying Dutchman.

After lunch, you will have a tour of the Cecilienhof Palace, where the famous Potsdam Conference was held. You will continue on to visit an exhibit at the site of the infamous Wannsee Conference of 1942, where the Nazi leadership finalized their plans to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

You will return to Berlin through a picturesque residential neighborhood. Say goodbye to Jan when you arrive at the hotel, since a different guide, Wolfgang, will accompany you to Dresden tomorrow.

Day 7: Dresden’s Old City

This morning will be an early start. Your new guide, Wolfgang, will pick you up from the lobby of the Kempinski Hotel, which is just opposite the palace, for the 2-hour drive to Dresden. Your tour of Dresden will take you through the old city and give you a chance to visit various museums and see their stunning collections.

You will start with a visit to the Zwinger Palace Complex, where you will see the wonderful porcelain of the Meissen Collection and the paintings collected in the Old Masters Gallery. After traveling through the lovely Rococo-era buildings of the Historic City Center, you will visit the Historic Green Vault. You can take your time browsing through one of Europe’s best collections of Saxon treasure and baroque art. I strongly suggest visiting the museum’s piece de resistance, the ceremonial jewel collection of August the Strong and his son. In the evening, you will journey back to Berlin for one more night on the town before your departure tomorrow.

Day 8: Depart from Berlin

Your visit to Berlin concludes today. In just one week, you’ve seen many different aspects of this historic city, from the high points of its culture to the depths of the war.

George, I’m very glad to have arranged this tour of Berlin and its environs for you. Please feel free to contact me at any time, should the need arise.